Using Archived Data in Course Projects: A Call for Collaboration

By/par Magdalen Normandeau (UNB)
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

There is a wealth of easily accessible archived data and databases that provide opportunities to give our undergrad students a taste of real data and a sense of the puzzle-solving involved in doing astronomy. However, coming up with a good project is time-consuming. Also, if one is not an expert in the particular subfield, there is the danger of introducing some serious error in the process of trying to craft something that is tractable in the context of a course.

I propose that we help each other – and our students – by collaborating on the elaboration of course projects and in-class activities that use publicly available data. I offer to coordinate the effort both by collecting the materials and finding a way to distribute them. Also, I offer to provide assistance, consultation and feedback on the pedagogical side (worrying about teaching effectiveness is what I do now rather than worrying about the impact of Wolf-Rayet stars on the surrounding ISM).

If you are interested in creating a project this summer, please email me ( the following information:

  • Your name and the names of anyone else who helps you on this project
  • Your institution(s)
  • The database that you intend using
  • The level for which you will be designing.
    • I have in mind intro astro for physics students at the 2nd or 3rd year level, but you should feel free to specify something else. Given the wealth of resources available for general education astro, my tendency is to design something for students with a stronger science background, the potential future astrophysicists.
  • The scope of project that you have in mind
    • A term project worth a substantial fraction of their final grade? One of a few projects scattered throughout the term? Part of a weekly or biweekly assignment? An in-class activity?

If two or more people propose similar projects, I’ll put them in touch with each other to avoid duplication of effort.

I doubt I’ll get any takers on this, but it’s worth a shot!

For a Limited Time Only: Sign up now to participate in new large programs at the JCMT!

From/de Chris Wilson
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

The results of the second round of Large Programs on the JCMT have been announced! This time large nine programs were awarded JCMT time (you can see the list with links to the program web pages here):

  • BISTRO-2: an extension to the BISTRO program
  • CHIMPS2: Resolving Star Formation in the Galactic Plane with HARP
  • NESS: The Nearby Evolved Star Survey
  • HASHTAG: HARP and SCUBA-2 High-Resolution Terahertz Andromeda Galaxy Survey
  • JINGLE II: the ISM of starbursts and green valley galaxies
  • NEP: Extragalactic JCMT Survey of the North Ecliptic Pole
  • eS2COSMOS: Extending an EAO SCUBA-2 survey to unveil the COSMOS field
  • S2LXS: SCUBA-2 Large eXtragalactic Survey
  • STUDIES-SXDS: A second pointing for the SCUBA-2 Ultra Deep Imaging EAO survey

For specific details of each program including the number of hours awarded per weather band and instrument requested please click here.

The JCMT will hold a period of open enrolment that will open soon and will close on 1st August 2017. Astronomers from any Canadian institution who are interested in the science of one or more large programs are welcome to join during this open enrolment period. Please keep an eye on the JCMT website for instructions on how to enroll or feel free to contact Chris Wilson at McMaster for more information.

In other news, Canadian participation in the JCMT has been secured for a further two years (covering the period February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2019) thanks to an award from NSERC’s RTI Operation and Maintenance Support program (PI: C. Wilson) as well as continuing financial contributions from McMaster University, the University of Alberta, and the University of Waterloo. The Canadian community also continues to receive additional credit for observing time in the PI queue thanks to the continued hosting of the JCMT archive at the CADC.

So, consider joining one of the new large programs, and polish up your PI science for the next call for JCMT proposals, which will be due in mid-September.


BRITE Constellation Mission Update

By/par Gregg Wade, Canadian PI for BRITE
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)


BRITE-Constellation is an international space astronomy mission consisting of a fleet of 20x20x20 cm nanosatellites dedicated to precision optical photometry of bright stars in two photometric colours. The mission continues in full science operations, with 17 data releases to BRITE target PIs having already taken place, and many datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive.

The most recent Call for Proposals closed on 01 December 2016, and 15 new proposals for observation were evaluated.

More information about the mission is available on our website: General inquiries about BRITE Constellation should be directed to the BEST Chair, Andrzej Pigulski, Univ. Wroclaw, Poland: or to Canadian PI Gregg Wade, RMC:


There are five operating BRITE satellites in the Constellation, collecting data on various sky fields in a coordinated programme to obtain well-sampled, longterm continuous (~6 months) light curves in both red and blue bandpasses.

As this issue of Cassiopeia went to press, here was the status of the sky assignments for the BRITE cubesats:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): Toronto observes with a red filter. It continues observing the Vel/Pic field after a record-breaking 215 days-long run. It is also observing the Ara/Sco field.
  • BRITE Lem (Poland): Lem observes with a blue filter. It is also observing the Vel/Pic field, along with the Sagittarius III field.
  • BRITE Heweliusz (Poland): Heweliusz observes with a red filter. This satellite is observing the Carina field.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): UniBRITE observes with a red filter. It is also observing the Sagittarius III field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a blue filter. It is also observing the Sagittarius III field.

The BRITE Constellation observing programme from early 2017 through early 2019 has been planned by the BRITE Executive Science Team (BEST), and details are available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent science results and technical papers

Studying the photometric and spectroscopic variability of the magnetic hot supergiant zeta Orionis Aa” (Buysschaert et al. 2017, A&A, in press):
To understand the variability of evolved massive stars in more detail, Buysschaert et al. present a study of the O9.2Ib supergiant zeta Ori Aa, the only currently confirmed hot supergiant to host a magnetic field. They perform a detailed frequency analysis to detect and characterize the star’s periodic variability, detecting two significant, independent frequencies, their higher harmonics, and combination frequencies. We confirm the variability with P_rot/4, likely caused by surface inhomogeneities, being the possible photospheric drivers of the discrete absorption components. No stellar pulsations were detected in the data.

Triple system HD 201433 with a SPB star component seen by BRITE-Constellation: Pulsation, differential rotation, and angular momentum transfer” (Kallinger et al. 2017, A&A, in press):
The SPB star HD 201433 is known to be part of a single-lined spectroscopic triple system, with two low-mass companions orbiting with periods of about 3.3 and 154 d. Kallinger et al. identify a sequence of 9 rotationally split dipole modes in the photometric time series and establish that HD 201433 is in principle a solid-body rotator with a very long rotation period. Tidal interaction with the inner companion has, however, significantly accelerated the spin of the surface layers by a factor of approximately one hundred. The angular momentum transfer onto the surface of HD201433 is also reflected by the statistically significant decrease of the orbital period of about 0.9 s during the last 96 years. Ultimately, the authors conclude that tidal interactions between the central SPB star and its inner companion have almost circularised the orbit but not yet aligned all spins of the system and have just begun to synchronise rotation.

Fig. 2: Final light curve of HD 201433 as obtained with the Canadian BRITE-Toronto satellite. The grey and black dots in the top panel represent the full and binned data, respectively. The bottom panels show enlargements of the full data set (red boxes in the top panel). From Kallinger et al. (2017).

Fig. 1: Final light curve of HD 201433 as obtained with the Canadian BRITE-Toronto satellite. The grey and black dots in the top panel represent the full and binned data, respectively. The bottom panels show enlargements of the full data set (red boxes in the top panel). From Kallinger et al. (2017).

BRITE-Constellation: Data processing and photometry” (Popowicz et al. 2017, A&A, in press):
The main aim of this third fundamental technical paper about BRITE-Constellation data is the presentation of procedures used to obtain high-precision photometry from a series of images acquired by the BRITE satellites in two modes of observing, stare and chopping. Popowicz et al. describe two pipelines corresponding to the two modes of observing. The assessment of the performance of both pipelines is presented. It is based on two comparisons, which use data from six runs of the UniBRITE satellite: (i) comparison of photometry obtained by both pipelines on the same data, which were partly affected by charge transfer inefficiency (CTI), (ii) comparison of real scatter with theoretical expectations. It is shown that for CTI-affected observations, the chopping pipeline provides much better photometry than the other pipeline. For other observations, the results are comparable only for data obtained shortly after switching to chopping mode. Starting from about 2.5 years in orbit, the chopping mode of observing provides significantly better photometry for UniBRITE data than the stare mode. This paper shows that high-precision space photometry with low-cost nano-satellites is achievable. The proposed methods, used to obtain photometry from images affected by high impulsive noise, can be applied to data from other space missions or even to data acquired from ground-based observations.

Fig. 1: Distribution of the observations from all five BRITE satellites until the end of 2016. The data obtained in the stare and chopping observing modes are shown with unfilled and filled bars, respectively. From Popowicz et al. (2017).

Fig. 2: Distribution of the observations from all five BRITE satellites until the end of 2016. The data obtained in the stare and chopping observing modes are shown with unfilled and filled bars, respectively. From Popowicz et al. (2017).

Conferences, resources and social media


The 3rd BRITE Constellation Science Conference will be hosted in Canada in August 2017. The conference, entitled “New scientific and technical achievements with BRITE”, will take place at the Auberge du Lac Taureau, located 2.5h north of Montréal, from 6-10 August. Late registration may still be possible by contacting


The BRITE Public Data Archive, based in Warsaw, Poland, at the Nikolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, can be accessed at

The mission Wiki (including information on past, current and future fields) can be accessed at

BRITE Constellation is now on Facebook, at @briteconstellation

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team (BIAST), which consists of BRITE scientific PIs, technical authorities, amateur astronomers, and mission fans, advises the mission executive on scientific and outreach aspects of the mission. If you’re interested to join BIAST, contact Canadian BRITE PI Gregg Wade:

Report from LRPIC

From/de John Hutchings
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

The LRP has a number of challenges at present, arising from different events and situations. We will continue to engage the community on these matters as they evolve.


The CATAC advisory committee has been very active and their report is also in this issue. The LRPIC has focussed more on alternatives to TMT should it no longer be a viable large telescope for Canada. This and related matters are in open discussion on the LRPIC-discuss mailing list, and there has been an open webex discussion and a plenary session at CASCA to give the community opportunities to be involved. The possibility of joining ESO has been the principal focus of these, although possible, but unspecified, collaboration between TMT and GMT has been in the background. At this point, LRPIC considers that the ESO alternative is risky in terms of government funding and approval, as well as being a major change in all our operations that may be unwieldy. Thus, as long as TMT proceeds with construction next year, at either site, we remain committed to it, with strong preference for the Hawaii site, if it is possible. However, major funding issues and solutions need more clarification to keep the confidence of the community.


The project has been undergoing a significant cost-saving exercise to keep SKA1 within the agreed budget. Ongoing concerns are that key science capability be retained, how Canadian partnership may be negotiated in the new IGO structure, and that Canadian contributions be agreed that enable our desired share of about 6%. A workshop to discuss these, and other radio facilities for the future, is to be held at McGill on September 13-14.


The design process is proceeding well and should be complete by the end of the calendar year. The challenges ahead include funding by all partners, and clarity on the future of MaunaKea for this and other telescopes.


The CSA budget currently is unable to support the LRP plans for WFIRST, CASTOR, SPICA, LiteBIRD, and Athena, and of course, any new opportunities that may arise in the next decade. This is a result of space science funding and priority having been badly eroded over the past years, with resources almost entirely dedicated to ISS and Radarsat. This dire overall situation is the subject of lobbying via the Coalition, input to the newly appointed Space Advisory Board, and a `white paper’ prepared by several members of the astronomy community. LRPIC is also participating in these initiatives.

Good news

This includes the expected completion, and early science commissioning of CHIME at DRAO this summer, the funding of access to JCMT by NSERC, and the beginning of construction of CCAT-prime, with expected Canadian partnership. We are following the future evolution of Gemini and possible links to Subaru, which are currently in play.

Survey says…

By/par Magdalen Normandeau (Cassiopeia co-editor)
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

“Is anyone going to read this?” That’s what I asked myself as I pulled together a recent edition of the Cassiopeia. It seemed like an important question to ask about a newsletter. When it was first created, the purpose of Cassiopeia was clear: without the web or email, the hardcopy newsletter that members received a few times per year was an important tool for keeping the CASCA community in the loop about observatories, instruments, big projects, etc. Now, however, there’s email and a web page in addition to the newsletter, so does the Cassiopeia still serve a purpose?

Word cloud

Wordcloud created using the responses to the question “In your opinion, what is or should be the purpose of the Cassiopeia newsletter?” Words that appeared more often are in larger font. The colours and placement have no meaning.

When asked what the purpose of Cassiopeia is or should be, many CASCA members referred to community (the Canadian astronomy community, the CASCA community). For example, one survey respondent wrote “To relay news from the community to the community,” while another contributed “créer un esprit de communauté pan canadien.” One senior member of CASCA wrote: “I lived thru the pre-CASCA wars. Never let that kind of situation develop again. The newsletter has been a successful unifying factor.”

The majority (67%) of those who responded to the survey in April 2017 indicated that CASCA should continue to publish Cassiopeia, while only 11% said that Cassiopeia should be discontinued. However, most CASCA members did not choose to complete the survey: 139 surveys submitted – 119 in English and 20 in French. In other words, roughly a quarter of CASCA members were sufficiently interested to complete the survey. Thirty-one other people began the survey but did not get past the third question. Of those who completed the survey, 57% work or study at a university with opportunities for graduate work in astronomy and 23% work for a governmental agency (NRC, CSA). At 26.5%, mid-career people made up the greatest proportion of respondents from academia, followed by late career at 19.7% and emeritus at 14.5%. Only 6 graduate students and 7 postdocs chose to complete the survey, suggesting a lack of interest in CASCA affairs among the younger members.

While 69% of respondents were likely or very likely to read the titles in the announcement email for a new edition of Cassiopeia, only 57% were likely or very likely to follow through to look at the web actual newsletter. This corresponds to approximately 18% of CASCA members. Reasons given for being unlikely to read Cassiopeia include lack of time/feeling overwhelmed (22), information being available from other sources (13), lack of interest (8) and aspects related to presentation or format (8).

Types of articles

A list of types of articles that recently appeared in Cassiopeia was given for consideration. In retrospect, when designing the survey, it would have been more useful to have 3 categories for instruments/observatories instead of specifying instruments: 1) operational, 2) under development, 3) proposed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Be that as it may, the results are presented in the figure below. Only for the LRP updates and the message from the president did more than 50% of respondents indicate that they were likely or very likely to completely read the article.

Bar chart - Current article types

Responses to “How likely is it that you will at least scan or partially read the following article types?” The list of article types was drawn up based on the table of contents of recent editions of Cassiopeia.
Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely. Stars indicate those for which more than half of the respondents indicated likely or very likely. Two stars indicate those that more than half the respondents indicated they were likely or very likely to read fully.

Members were also asked what they would like to read. The figure below shows the responses for the list of possibilities presented. More than 50% of respondents expressed interest in articles about statistics related to astronomy in Canada, award announcements, reports from the Ground-Based Astronomy Committee and from the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy, as well as conference announcements.

Responses to the question: "How likely would you be to read these types of articles?" Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely.  Stars indicate those for which more than half the respondents chose "likely" or "very likely".

Responses to the question: “How likely would you be to read these types of articles?” Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely. Stars indicate those for which more than half the respondents chose “likely” or “very likely”.

In addition to the options listed, several suggestions were made. These mostly fell into 3 categories: 1) the business of astronomy (astronomy & politics ; NSERC ; grant policies & implementations ; CASCA Board agenda & major outcomes), 2) research (research-oriented articles; papers published in previous quarter ; summaries of current Canadian astronomy research accomplishments ; progress reports of major research efforts), 3) people (news on new staff, new PDF hires ; profiles of astronomers in the news ; what has become of…? ; obituaries).

Redundancy and format


Given the multiple means of communication at CASCA’s disposal (email, web site, newsletter), members were asked if they considered redundancy between emailed information and Cassiopeia to be desirable. The answers shown in the figure on the right suggest that while most CASCA members consider repetition of information acceptable, many would appreciate it if articles in Cassiopeia were written as proper articles, not simply direct repetitions of email messages.

When asked about the importance of images in articles, only 19.5% of respondents indicated that they were not important. On the matter of whether or not photos of authors should be included, most were indifferent.

In the comments related to format, 5 people stated that they would like to have a PDF version of the newsletter so that they could read it offline, 4 stated that they would prefer one continuous post rather than each article being a separate post linked to a table of contents, and 2 people suggested that the email announcement for the newsletter could be in a format similar to that used by NRAO, i.e. all articles titles would be listed in the email, with each title linked to its article, and perhaps the first few lines of each article would appear in the email as well. The latter suggestion is relatively easy to implement if the editors send emails directly to the list rather than submitting the announcement via the CASCA webpage where it is not possible to include hyperlinks.


Currently, articles in Cassiopeia are published in the language in which they are submitted. Most are submitted only in English, with a few being submitted in both languages (NRC-Herzberg, CSA, Gemini). No articles in French only have been submitted in recent years. There would be logistical challenges to having the entire newsletter translated: the deadline would need to be a few weeks before publication rather than a few days, and the cost would probably be $1000 per edition (it might be more: I haven’t done a word-count or updated my awareness of the going rate for translation in quite a while). However, it is important to consider the matter as the predominance of English may be a barrier to participation for some CASCA members.

Members were asked if they had any comments related to the fact that Cassiopeia is currently mostly in English. Only 2 people wrote that the newsletter should be fully bilingual, and another 2 indicated that translation would be “worth it if French-speakers feel that it is limiting their participation in astronomy communications.” Most respondents on the English version of the survey wrote that they would defer to their francophone colleagues on this matter. As indicated above, only 20 people responded to the French version of the survey, and 2 of these requested a fully bilingual Cassiopeia.

Two people suggested that short abstracts in the other language would be worth considering. Two members stated that the message from the president should be bilingual.

Moving forward: thoughts and suggestions

Back to my original question: “Will anyone read this?” The answer can be stated two ways: either “Very few will read it, but it’s important to those who do” or “It’s important to those who read it, but very few will.” The response rate for the survey was low, only ~25%, and not all who responded consider it worth continuing to publish Cassiopeia. On the other hand, those in favour of continuing to publish Cassiopeia presented compelling arguments for doing so. The decision of whether or not to continue with Cassiopeia rests with the Board.

If CASCA continues to publish Cassiopeia, I would suggest the following:

  • Save non-urgent matters for Cassiopeia

    Throughout the various comment sections in the survey, there were several mentions of receiving too much email via the CASCA email exploder. I would suggest that non-urgent matters should not be sent via email, that they only be communicated via Cassiopeia.

  • Have the message from the president in both languages

    While only two people thought to suggest this, it seems like a reasonable thing to do. The president can either write his/her article directly in both languages or have it translated. It should be submitted in both languages.
    [For this edition, the President's Message was finalized too late to allow translation.]

  • Use NRAO-style format for the announcement-of-publication email

    While only two people suggested this specifically in the “suggestions regarding format” section, similar things were mentioned by some elsewhere in the survey. As this is relatively easy to implement, it should be done.
    [Done. Was it helpful for you? If so, please let us know. It takes a while to set up, so it's only worth doing if it makes a positive difference.]

  • Add a link to Cassiopeia under the News tab on the CASCA website

    Based on some of the comments, it was clear that some people did not know how to access Cassiopeia other than through the link in the announcement email. While it is possible to navigate to Cassiopeia on the website, how to do so would be more obvious if Cassiopeia appeared under the News tab.
    [Up to those who control the CASCA website.]

  • Articles about awards should be part of Cassiopeia

    Members of the awards committee should be encouraged to write articles about awards and their recipients, preferably going beyond the contents of the announcement email and making good use of appropriate images.
    [Encouragement was sent. No articles received for this issue.]

  • Updates from the Ground-Based Astronomy Committee and the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy should be included

    Respondents indicated that these would be of interest. The members of these committees should be encouraged to submit articles.
    [Encouragement was sent. No articles received for this issue.]

  • Authors should think about communication when writing articles
    • Write an article not an email
    • Write for your audience
    • Write informative/compelling titles and 1st paragraphs
    • Include some relevant visuals
    • (And authors probably shouldn’t write an article as long as this one…)


As it says in the description of Cassiopeia:

“Members are invited to submit letters or articles of interest, Departmental or Observatory news, instrumentation ideas or proposals, symposium and meeting reports, and so forth, for publication in Cassiopeia.”

Articles can be submitted in French, in English, or in both English and French.

Cassiopeia is the society’s newsletter, it is what you, members of the society, make it.

Canadian Gemini News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

By/par Stéphanie Côté (NRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

La version française suit

Laura Ferrarese Interim Director of Gemini!

Markus Kissler-Patig, current Gemini Director, will be stepping down in July, to return to ESO. Markus’s remarkable leadership has brought many new ideas and initiatives to Gemini during his 5-years term, and we will dearly miss him. We were happy to learn that none other than astronomer extraordinaire Laura Ferrarese from NRC-Herzberg will be taking the helm of Gemini as Interim Director for a one-year term! She will be serving in Hilo while an international search is underway for a new permanent Director. See the Gemini press release here. We are delighted to see Gemini in very capable Canadian hands in the year to come.

New Next Instrument announced: introducing OCTOCAM!

The next instrument to be built as a facility instrument for Gemini has been selected, it will be OCTOCAM. The PI is Antonio de Ugarte Postigo (IAA) with co-PI Pete Roming (Southwest Research Institute). It is an 8-channel imager and spectrograph that will simultaneously observe the g, r, i, z, Y, J, H, and Ks bands in a square field-of-view of 3′x3′, or a circular one with a diameter of 4.24′. It can also do long slit (3′ long) spectroscopy with a resolution of R ~ 4,000, simultaneously covering the range between 0.37 – 2.35 microns.

The eight independent arms in OCTOCAM allow the user to adjust exposure times in each bandpass for increased efficiency and the best match to observing conditions. By using state of the art detectors – frame transfer in the optical and CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) in the near infrared – OCTOCAM will have negligible readout times enabling high time-resolution observations (< 50 ms for a 30x30 pixel window). This temporal resolution will open up a new region of observation space.

Figure 1- OCTOCAM’s light path: the near-infrared optical bench (on top) will be cryogenically cooled. The visible optical bench (bottom) will be at ambient temperature. The instrument is simple and compact, with a minimum number of moving parts. Image Credit: Ugarte Postigo

Figure 1- OCTOCAM’s light path: the near-infrared optical bench (on top) will be cryogenically cooled. The visible optical bench (bottom) will be at ambient temperature. The instrument is simple and compact, with a minimum number of moving parts. Image Credit: Ugarte Postigo

Maunakea Dunlap Summer School students get VIP visit to Gemini

In order to insure that our Canadian observatories keep their leadership position, making Canadian research shine in tomorrow’s astronomical world, the contribution and training of young Canadian astronomers must be fostered through continued interactions. The Maunakea Dunlap Graduate School (MKDS) aims to expose Canadian astronomy graduate students to world-class instrumentation on site where they can participate in observations and data acquisition and processing, learn about the latest instrumentation, and interact with scientific and technical staff. Seven students from various Canadian universities participated in the 2017 MKDS last May, spending 10 days at the Gemini and CFHT headquarters and visiting various Maunakea Observatories, including the Gemini Northʻs Hilo Base Facility (HBF) and Gemini North’s summit telescope facility. At Gemini, students attended lectures by Gemini astronomers Laure Catala, André-Nicolas Chené, Inger Jorgensen, and Meg Schwamb who shared highlights on Geminiʻs recent science and instrumentation news. Students also acquired data using GMOS (under 0.5″ seeing!) and received instructions about data reduction. Similar equally successful and rewarding activities took place at CFHT. In addition to visiting and using CFHT and Gemini, students were able to visit the JCMT, Keck, and Subaru telescopes. This project is led by Prof. Stéphane Courteau at Queen’s University and Prof. Suresh Sivanandam at the Dunlap Institute. Canadian students wanting to participate in future MKDS must first attend the Dunlap Summer School on Astronomical Instrumentation.

Figure 2- Happy canadian students on their Gemini visit. Front row, left to right: Jonathan Saint-Antoine, Mie Beers, Vincent Chambouleyron, Nikhil Arora, Deborah Lockhorst, Taylor Roberton, Katie Harris. Back row, left to right: Gemini Public Information and Outreach Manager Peter Michaud, Suresh Sivanandam (Dunlap Institute), Stephane Courteau (group leader, Queen’s University), and Gemini Director Markus Kissler-Patig. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Figure 2- Happy canadian students on their Gemini visit. Front row, left to right: Jonathan Saint-Antoine, Mie Beers, Vincent Chambouleyron, Nikhil Arora, Deborah Lockhorst, Taylor Roberton, Katie Harris. Back row, left to right: Gemini Public Information and Outreach Manager Peter Michaud, Suresh Sivanandam (Dunlap Institute), Stephane Courteau (group leader, Queen’s University), and Gemini Director Markus Kissler-Patig. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Recent Canadian Gemini Press Releases

  • At the January 2017 AAS a team lead by Shriharsh Tendulkar (McGill) and including Victoria Kaspi (McGill) and Paul Scholz (NRC) presented the first optical follow-up of a Fast Radio Burst. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are bright (~ Jy) and short (~ ms) bursts of radio emission, of which 18 have been detected over the past 10 years, but that had remained so far of unknown origin. FR121102 is the only repeat FRB for which it was then possible to get an accurate position (of 100 mas precision) thanks to VLA follow-up. Gemini then provided the crucial rapid follow-up to produce the first optical imaging and spectroscopy of a FRB. The Gemini data revealed that the FRB host is a small unassuming dwarf galaxy at z = 0.19, with a diameter of < 4 kpc and about 1% the mass of the Milky Way. This was surprising as it was assumed so far that most FRBs would come from large galaxies with more neutron stars (the top candidates to explain FRBs). This hints that FRBs may rather be linked to long-duration gamma-ray bursts and superluminous supernovae which frequently occur in dwarf galaxies. The paper published in ApJ is available here.
  • Figure 3 -Gemini composite image of the field around FRB 121102 (indicated). The dwarf host galaxy was imaged, and spectroscopy performed, using GMOS on the Gemini North telescope. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF/NRC

    Figure 3 -Gemini composite image of the field around FRB 121102 (indicated). The dwarf host galaxy was imaged, and spectroscopy performed, using GMOS on the Gemini North telescope. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF/NRC

  • In April an international team led by Wesley Fraser (Queen’s University, Belfast, UK) and including Brett Gladman (UBC), JJ Kavellars and Stephen Gwyn (NRC) had a press release with results from Gemini Large and Long Program “Colours of the Outer Solar System Object Survey” (Col-OSSOS). They studied a small population of blue-colored loosely-bound pairs of planetoids, hiding amongst the mainly red-colored Cold Classical Kuiper Belt objects. While the red CCKBOs are thought to have formed in their current location in the middle of the Kuiper Belt, this study suggests that the blue binaries actually formed in a region much closer to the Sun, and were then pushed out to their current location. This research indicates that when Neptune moved from 20 AU to its current location at 30 AU, several billions of years ago, this was a very slow and calm movement, which allowed the fragile and loosely bound binaries to be swept out a similar distance to where they are found currently without being disrupted into two separate single objects. The Nature Astronomy paper is available here.

Join the thousands and thousands of Gemini Observatory followers on Facebook and Twitter @GeminiObs

Laura Ferrarese Directrice Intérimaire de Gemini!

Markus Kissler-Patig, directeur actuel de Gemini, va se retirer de ses fonctions en juillet pour retourner à ESO. Le leadership remarquable de Markus a apporté de nombreuses nouvelles idées et initiatives à Gemini pendant son mandat de 5 ans, et il nous manquera beaucoup. Nous avons été heureux d’apprendre que nul autre que l’astronome exceptionnelle Laura Ferrarese du CNRC-Herzberg prendra la tête de Gemini comme directrice intérimaire pour un mandat d’un an! Elle servira à Hilo alors qu’une recherche internationale est en cours pour un nouveau directeur permanent. Consultez le communiqué de presse de Gemini ici. Nous sommes ravis de voir Gemini dans des mains canadiennes si compétentes dans l’année à venir.

Prochain nouvel instrument: voici OCTOCAM!

Le prochain instrument qui sera construit en tant qu` instrument de base pour Gemini a été sélectionné, ce sera OCTOCAM. Le PI est Antonio de Ugarte Postigo (IAA) avec le co-PI Pete Roming (Southwest Research Institute). Il s’agit d’un imageur et d’un spectrographe à 8 canaux qui observeront simultanément les bandes g, r, i, z, Y, J, H et Ks dans un champ de vision carré de 3′x3′ ou une circulaire de diamètre de 4,24 minutes d`arc. Il peut également faire de la spectroscopie à fente longue (sur 3′) avec une résolution de R ~ 4,000, couvrant simultanément la plage spectrale de 0,37 à 2,35 microns.

Les huit bras indépendants d’ OCTOCAM permettent à l’utilisateur d’ajuster les temps d’exposition dans chaque bande passante pour une efficacité accrue et une meilleure adaptation aux conditions d’observation. En utilisant des détecteurs de pointe – transfert de trâme dans l’optique et CMOS (semi-conducteur d’oxyde de métal complémentaire) dans l’infrarouge proche – OCTOCAM aura des temps de lecture négligeables permettant des observations à haute résolution de temps (< 50 ms pour une fenêtre de 30x30 pixels). Cette résolution temporelle ouvrira une nouvelle région d'espace d'observation.

Figure 1- Le trajet optique d'OCTOCAM: le banc optique en infrarouge proche (en haut) sera refroidi cryogéniquement. Le banc optique en visible (en bas) sera à température ambiante. L'instrument est simple et compact, avec un minimum de pièces mobiles. Crédit d'image: Ugarte Postigo

Figure 1- Le trajet optique d’OCTOCAM: le banc optique en infrarouge proche (en haut) sera refroidi cryogéniquement. Le banc optique en visible (en bas) sera à température ambiante. L’instrument est simple et compact, avec un minimum de pièces mobiles. Crédit d’image: Ugarte Postigo

Les étudiants du Maunakea Dunlap Summer School font une visite VIP à Gemini

Afin d’assurer que nos observatoires canadiens conservent leur position de leaders, et que la recherche canadienne continue de rayonner dans le monde astronomique de demain, la contribution et la formation des jeunes astronomes canadiens doivent être favorisées par des interactions continues. La Maunakea Dunlap Graduate School (MKDS) vise à exposer les étudiants diplômés canadiens en astronomie à l’instrumentation de classe mondiale in-situ où ils peuvent participer aux observations et à l’acquisition et au traitement de données, en apprendre davantage sur les derniers instruments de pointe, tout en interagissant avec le personnel scientifique et technique. Sept étudiants de diverses universités canadiennes ont participé au MKDS de 2017 en mai, en passant 10 jours au quartier général de Gemini et CFHT et en visitant divers observatoires au Maunakea, y compris la base de Gemini Nord à Hilo (HBF) ainsi que le télescope Gemini Nord au sommet. À Gemini, les étudiants ont assisté à des conférences par les astronomes Laure Catala, André-Nicolas Chené, Inger Jorgensen et Meg Schwamb qui ont partagé des points saillants sur les dernières nouvelles scientifiques et instrumentales de Gemini. Les étudiants ont également acquis des données avec GMOS (sous un seeing de moins de 0,5″!) et ils ont reçu des instructions sur la réduction de données. Des activités toutes aussi réussies et enrichissantes ont eu lieu à CFHT. En plus de visiter et utiliser CFHT et Gemini, les étudiants ont pu visiter les télescopes JCMT, Keck et Subaru. Ce projet est dirigé par le Professeur Stéphane Courteau de l’Université Queen’s et le Professeur Suresh Sivanandam de l’Institut Dunlap. Les étudiants canadiens qui souhaitent participer au futur MKDS doivent d’abord fréquenter l’école d’été Dunlap d’instrumentation astronomique.

Figure 2-Étudiants canadiens heureux de leur visite à Gemini. Première rangée, de gauche à droite: Jonathan Saint-Antoine, Mie Beers, Vincent Chambouleyron, Nikhil Arora, Deborah Lockhorst, Taylor Roberton, Katie Harris. En arrière, de gauche à droite: Responsable de l’Information et la Vulgarisation à Gemini, Peter Michaud, Suresh Sivanandam (Dunlap Institute), Stéphane Courteau (chef du groupe, Queen's University) et Directeur de Gemini Markus Kissler-Patig. Crédit d'image: Observatoire Gemini / AURA

Figure 2-Étudiants canadiens heureux de leur visite à Gemini. Première rangée, de gauche à droite: Jonathan Saint-Antoine, Mie Beers, Vincent Chambouleyron, Nikhil Arora, Deborah Lockhorst, Taylor Roberton, Katie Harris. En arrière, de gauche à droite: Responsable de l’Information et la Vulgarisation à Gemini, Peter Michaud, Suresh Sivanandam (Dunlap Institute), Stéphane Courteau (chef du groupe, Queen’s University) et Directeur de Gemini Markus Kissler-Patig. Crédit d’image: Observatoire Gemini / AURA

Communiqués de presse canadiens récents

  • Au AAS de janvier 2017, une équipe dirigée par Shriharsh Tendulkar (McGill) et incluant Victoria Kaspi (McGill) et Paul Scholz (NRC) a présenté le premier suivi optique d’un Fast Radio Burst. Ces explosions radio rapides (FRB) sont de puissantes (~ Jy) et très courtes (~ ms) émissions radio, dont 18 ont été détectées au cours des 10 dernières années, mais qui sont restées jusqu’à présent d’origines inconnues. FR121102 est la seule FRB répétitive pour laquelle il a été alors possible d’obtenir une position précise (à une précision de 100 mas) grâce à un suivi VLA. Gemini a ensuite fourni le suivi crucial rapide pour produire la première imagerie optique et spectroscopie d’un FRB. Les données de Gemini ont révélé que l’hôte du FRB est une petite galaxie naine sans prétention à z = 0,19, avec un diamètre <4 kpc et environ 1% de la masse de la Voie Lactée. Ceci est surprenant car on avait supposé jusqu'à présent que la plupart des FRB viendraient de grandes galaxies avec plein d'étoiles à neutrons (les meilleurs candidates pour expliquer les FRB). Cela indique que les FRB pourraient plutôt être liés à des rayonnements de rayons gamma de longue durée et à des supernovae superlumineuses qui se produisent fréquemment dans des galaxies naines. L’article publié dans ApJ est disponible ici.
  • Figure 3 - Image composite de Gemini du champ autour de FRB 121102 (indiqué). La galaxie naine hôtesse du FRB a été imagée, et des spectres ont aussi été obtenus, grâce à GMOS sur le télescope Gemini-Nord. Crédit d'image: Observatoire Gemini / AURA / NSF / NRC

    Figure 3 – Image composite de Gemini du champ autour de FRB 121102 (indiqué). La galaxie naine hôtesse du FRB a été imagée, et des spectres ont aussi été obtenus, grâce à GMOS sur le télescope Gemini-Nord. Crédit d’image: Observatoire Gemini / AURA / NSF / NRC

  • En avril, une équipe internationale dirigée par Wesley Fraser (Queen’s University, Belfast, Royaume-Uni) et incluant Brett Gladman (UBC), JJ Kavellars et Stephen Gwyn (NRC) ont émis un communiqué de presse sur les résultats de leur Programme Long et Large à Gemini “Colours of the Outer Solar System Object Survey” (Col-OSSOS). Ils ont étudié une petite population de paires de planétoïdes faiblement liées de couleur bleue, se cachant parmi les objets de la Ceinture de Kuiper Classique froide (CCKBO) qui sont principalement rouges. Alors que les CCKBO rouges sont censés s’être formés dans leur emplacement actuel au milieu de la ceinture de Kuiper, cette étude suggère que les binaires bleus se sont formés dans une région beaucoup plus proche du Soleil, et ont ensuite été poussés à leur emplacement actuel. Cette recherche indique que lorsque Neptune est passé de 20 UA à son emplacement actuel à 30 UA, il y a plusieurs milliards d’années, cela s’est produit par un mouvement très lent et calme qui a permis aux paires fragiles et faiblement liées d’être balayées d’une distance similaire pour se retrouver à leur emplacement actuel sans être séparées en deux objets individuels distincts. L’article Nature Astronomy est disponible ici.

Rejoignez les milliers et milliers de followers de l’Observatoire Gemini sur Facebook et Twitter @GeminiObs

President’s Report

By Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Well, this is my first President’s Message, and even though I’ve only been in the job for ten days, it’s been enough time to learn two things:

(1) Many things that Chris Wilson made look effortless are hard work! We all owe her our thanks.

(2) Being the President of CASCA is like getting dropped into the deep end of the pool. In the last ten days I’ve met with the ACURA Board and Council, worked with the JCSA and the LRPIC committees to define a strategy for moving forward on the space-based component of the plan crafted by the MTR panel, crafted a letter to the CSA’s Space Advisory Board, and have begun working with my Coalition for Astronomy Co-Chairs to devise a stategic plan for communicating our message to the Canadian Government. That message will contain the story of our community’s many successes, relay our ambitious goals for the future, and make clear how we give back to Canada in a myriad number of ways.

CASCA is a wonderful community and it’s an honour to serve you all. Our work together is made infinitely easier because of the hard-working and dedicated members of the society that do things like serve on the CASCA board and on its many committees, and because so many people pull together to organize and run national meetings. A big thank you to you all, and I look forward to serving you for the next two years.

Past-President’s Report


From/de Christine Wilson
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Hi, everyone,

I have recently returned from the 2016 CASCA meeting in Winnipeg, which was a big success! The prize winning talks were uniformly excellent. Chris Pritchet (Beals Award) gave a comprehensive talk on the progenitors of Type IA supernovae that extended from the 1993 calibration of the stretch factor that allows these objects to be used as standard candles to very recent work suggesting that single degenerate binaries are likely not the progenitors. Peter Stetson (Dunlap Award) regaled us with a historical overview of photometry, starting with the first “computers” up to his current massive and impressive “Homogeneous Photometry Project”, punctuated by periodic questions for the audience of “Who under the age of 50 knows [xxx]?” and including props such as a photographic plate and (if memory serves) a piece of a photoelectric photometer. Jaymie Matthews (Qilak Award) gave an entertaining talk on his various outreach activities, including a collaboration with a shadow puppeteer and Science 101 for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community. Jonathan Gagné (Plaskett Medal) described his major proper motion survey to search for young brown dwarfs in nearby moving groups by combining the WISE and 2MASS near-infrared surveys and using Bayesian analysis to prioritize targets for follow-up observations.

A highlight for many of us was the banquet talk by Wilfred Buck from the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre on Ininew (Cree) constellations and the legends around them. CASCA’s new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee organized a special plenary session that was very well attended where participants were led to consider various scenarios around these issues and possible ways to act and respond. The public lecture was given by the 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Professor A. McDonald, who spoke about the building and research with SNO, future research plans with SNO-lab, and what it is like to be in Stockholm during prize week. And of course the meeting was filled with contributed talks, special invited talks, and time for looking at posters. I want to congratulate the winners of the 2016 student presentation awards: best talk was won by Fraser Evans (McMaster University) for his talk “Red Misfit Galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey” and best poster was won by Nicholas Fantin (Queen’s University) for his poster “Identifying Halo White Dwarfs within the NGBS Field”.

In other news, John Hutchings of NRC-Herzberg was presented with the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence from the Canadian Space Agency in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the Canadian Space Program. The award was presented in a ceremony at the 17th Conference on Astronautics of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI ASTRO 2016) in Ottawa, Ontario. John has led Canada’s participation in landmark missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on India’s ASTROSAT. The fact that he was able to lead so many major projects to fruition while maintaining excellent relations with international partners and a highly productive research career, is testimony to his skills, passion and perseverance. Congratulations to John on this award!

The report of the Mid-Term Review panel has been finished and released in electronic form to the community. The first draft of the French translation has been received and so we should be proceeding to print hard copies of the report very soon. I want to thank the chair of the MTR panel, Rob Thacker, and all the MTR panel members for all their time and effort to put together this excellent report. The Long Range Plan Implementation Committee has developed a 2-page summary of the report that is available for use in outreach to politicians, senior university administrators, and others who may not wish to read the whole report. The two-page summary is available in both English and French in the Long Range Plan area of the CASCA web site.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has continued our outreach efforts with the new Federal Government with a letter to all new and returning MPs congratulating them on their election and introducing them to our community and Long Range Plan.

As I described in an earlier report, the Westar Lectureship is being re-instated under the guidance of the Education and Public Outreach Committee and the CASCA Board. The aim is to have the first Westar Lecture held this fall, possibly in the Yukon. Keep an eye on your inbox for information on how to apply to be a Westar Lecturer or nominate another excellent public speaker.

For updates on the various facilities that our community is involved in, such as TMT, SKA, and WFIRST, please see the committee reports on the CASCA web site or other articles in this issue.

Finally, as out-going President, I would like to thank the members of the CASCA Board and also all the CASCA committee members for their hard work on behalf of our community. I look forward to supporting our new President, Bob Abraham, and to working with the new Vice-President, Rob Thacker, and our two new Directors, Kristine Spekkens and Erik Rosolowsky.

Have a great summer!
Chris Wilson

CASCA Executive Award

CASCA is pleased to announce that Dr. Ralph Pudritz, from McMaster University, is the 2016 recipient of the CASCA Executive Award.

In 1998 Dr. Pudritz was appointed the chair of the original Long Range Planning panel, the outcome of which was the highly influential LRP2000 report (“The Origins of Structure in the Universe”). Prior to this report, individual leaders and panels in various sub-disciplines had succeeded in developing Canadian involvement in a range of facilities and institutes, but LRP2000 was the first long-range plan that the Canadian astronomical community itself generated through a process of broad consultation, debate, and, ultimately, consensus. Dr. Pudritz drove this process forward with vision and energy. LRP2000 not only succeeded in cementing Canadian involvement in ALMA, TMT and the SKA (remarkable in the face of the very challenging funding climate), it also succeeded in transforming the process by which our community communicates our aspirations to the federal and provincial governments and other funding partners. The LRP2000 report became the model for future decadal plans that
have succeeded in developing a unified vision for Canadian astrophysics, and this success is in no small measurable attributable to the efforts of Ralph Pudritz and to his colleagues on the LRP2000 panel. Dr. Pudritz has subsequently gone on to develop the Origins Institute at McMaster University, a visionary research and teaching institute with a multidisciplinary focus on biology, mathematics, physics and astrophysics. This is another achievement well worthy of recognition by the Executive Award.

The Board of Directors of CASCA congratulates Dr. Pudritz on his distinguished career of scientific achievement, thanks him for his outstanding record of service to the community, and is honoured to award him the 2016 CASCA Executive Award.

President’s Report


By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Printemps/spring 2016)

Hi, everyone,

Spring is in the air, and that means it is time to start planning your trip to the next annual CASCA meeting, to be held this year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Registration is now open and the abstract submission deadline is April 8. More information is available on the meeting web site. The graduate student workshop will be on May 30th, 2016 with the CASCA meeting itself May 31st – June 2nd, 2016. In addition, there will be a half-day meeting on the status and future of ground-based submillimetre astronomy in Canada on Friday, June 3rd. The meeting will be held at the historic Fort Garry Hotel, located in the heart of Winnipeg, within easy walking distance of many attractions such as The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Our new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has drafted a meeting Code of Conduct that is being reviewed by the CASCA Board. There will also be a special plenary session on diversity and inclusivity at the meeting itself.

The Westar Lecture series is planned to resume in 2016. The new model for this series will combine a Westar lecture by an astronomer with hands-on teacher training activities offered by Discover the Universe. An ad hoc Westar committee has been formed to coordinate planning; the committee consists of Lorne Nelson for the CASCA board, Julie Bolduc-Duval for Discover the Universe, and Phil Langill from the Unviersity of Calgary. The EPO Committee will select the initial lecturers. We are planning to target more remote sites without good connections with a local university, possibly in northern Canada.

Many of you will have seen the announcement on February 16, 2016 that Vicky Kaspi has been awarded the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council. It is great to see a member of our community recognized with this high-profile national award! Vicky is also the first woman ever to be awarded the Herzberg medal. Congratulations to Vicky on this well-deserved award!

Spring is also the time when we announce our CASCA award winners. Our winners this year are

  • Chris Pritchet (University of Victoria) for the Carlyle S. Beals Award for groundbreaking research
  • Peter Stetson (NRC Herzberg) for the Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research
  • Jonathan Gagné (Carnegie Institute for Science) for the J. S. Plaskett Medal for the most outstanding doctoral thesis
  • Jaymie Matthews (University of British Columbia) for the Qilak Award for astronomy communications, public education, and outreach
  • Ralph Pudritz (McMaster University) for the Executive Award for outstanding service

Congratulations to all our award winners and I look forward to seeing you at the CASCA meeting in Winnipeg!

Work on the report from the Mid-Term Review panel is very nearly finished. An initial draft was released to the community for a two-week comment period on February 23. The final revisions are nearly done and we expect to release the final report (electronically, English only) any day now. The report will be translated into French and printed in both official languages, which will take additional time.

Early in the new year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy reached out to the new Federal Government, with letters to key ministers followed up by a face-to-face meeting with the Minister for Science, Kirsty Duncan, in Ottawa on February 25. We took this opportunity to introduce the minister and her staff to our long range planning process and to highlight key facilities from that plan, including the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, and WFIRST. The tone of the meeting was very cordial and the new minister appears very interested in hearing about the exciting science that our community does, which is very encouraging.

In facility news, the TMT situation continues to evolve slowly, with meetings by the TIO Board in February 2016 and the beginning of a process to review possible alternative sites for the telescope (see contribution from Ray Carlberg in this newsletter). The Canadian Space Agency celebrated the successful launch on March 17, 2016 of Hitomi (formerly known as ASTRO-H), a new Japanese X-ray telescope with which Canada is involved. The CSA has also released a Request for Proposals for Phase 0 studies for the WFIRST mission, which is an important and necessary step towards ultimately securing Canadian participation in this Dark Energy mission.

Finally, one of the annual tasks of the CASCA President as chair of the Canadian National Committee for the IAU is to submit our “Annual Performance Review” to the National Research Council. This report is important as it helps to justify the payment of our annual membership dues (29,000 Euros in 2016) to the IAU. This year we continued our tradition of excellence and achieved a rank of 3 out of 28 Canadian National Committees across a wide range of disciplines that submitted reports for 2015.